Working to reduce some of the rampant fraud taking place in the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and ensure only those eligible for public assistance receive it, state Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) Thursday unveiled legislation he is introducing in the House to prohibit illegal aliens from possessing and using ACCESS cards.
Joining him at a press conference in Memorial Park for the unveiling were Reps. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) and Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill/Berks).
"The prevalence of illegal immigrants having ACCESS cards was first brought to my attention by Beaver Meadows Police Chief Michael Morresi, who has personally encountered illegal aliens having multiple ACCESS cards in their possession from Pennsylvania and other states," said Heffley.
ACCESS cards are issued by the state to those individuals who are eligible for Medical Assistance and also can be used in a similar fashion to a debit card for those who have been approved to receive cash assistance and/or food stamps.
Testifying before the House State Government Committee in August, Morresi reported that in the course of stopping a vehicle for speeding, the driver admitted to being an illegal alien. The driver also was in the possession of a number of ACCESS cards from various states, including Pennsylvania. Morresi testified that he contacted the Department of Public Welfare, which administers the ACCESS cards, and was informed that he must return the cards to the illegal alien.
According to current state law, officers can confiscate fake IDs but not fraudulent welfare cards that are provided as identification.
"Clearly, state law needs to be changed so that illegal immigrants who are not eligible to receive state benefits are not permitted to possess or use welfare or Medical Assistance cards unless their photo identification matches the name on their card," said Heffley. "Those cards should be seized as they are being used for theft of services. I am appalled that such activity is taking place and that legal Pennsylvania residents who are truly in need of public assistance might be denied benefits because the system is drained by this type of fraudulent activity."
Heffley's legislation would explicitly prohibit any illegal alien from possessing, using or attempting to use an ACCESS card or other electronic benefit transfer card. Any person who violates this prohibition would be charged with a third-degree felony.
"This legislation gives teeth to law enforcement officers who are constantly turning loose illegal immigrants who are in possession of ACCESS cards. Now a mechanism is being created by which local, state and federal law enforcement officials can take action when events such as the Beaver Meadows incident occur," said Toohil. "I applaud Rep. Heffley for developing this no-nonsense, practical piece of legislation."
"It is outrageous and ridiculous that people who are in this country illegally are stealing taxpayer resources by obtaining welfare benefits and the police have no power to stop this injustice," Tobash said. "Rep. Heffley's bill will both empower law enforcement and mark another important step in our effort to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in the welfare system to protect taxpayers and ensure people who truly need benefits can get them."
Heffley's bill is expected to be referred to the House State Government Committee and become a part of the National Security Begins at Home legislative initiative, which is a package of bills aimed at strengthening Pennsylvania's ability to address issues arising from illegal aliens living, working and traveling through the Commonwealth.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), leader of the National Security Begins at Home initiative and majority chairman of the House State Government Committee, supports Heffley's measure.
"Just like any other state law or policy, our public welfare laws must protect the lives, liberty and property of Pennsylvania citizens, rather than foreign invaders," said Metcalfe. "It is a violation of the public trust and, at the very least, blatant fraud for any department of welfare official to order the return of a confiscated welfare benefits ACCESS card to a known illegal alien. I support this legislation because it is time to take the bureaucratic handcuffs off of law enforcement and put them on the more than 140,000 illegal aliens who continue to rob law-abiding Pennsylvania taxpayers of more than $1.4 billion annually in increased welfare, education, medical and incarceration costs."